Word Walls? Word Up!

I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin

How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”?  In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment:  classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!

In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.  The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.”  However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!  

Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):

  • To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
  • To allow Students to have multiple exposures to new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
  • To foster connections between words
  • To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom

The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:

“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall!  Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly.  Student created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!

Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem!  You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:

One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!

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Photo taken by me many years ago; can’t remember what amazing teacher did this!
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Used with permission from Marsha Anema, Music – Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
Yellow Kid Print
All words are written by students! Photo by me
Laminated Word Chart
Laminated word wall for easily changing out new unit words. Photo by me
Felt Word Wall
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms! – Photo by me
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More student written words – Photo by me
I love how eye-catching and colorful this wall is! – Used with permission from Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
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I love this student-created science word wall with illustrations! Source: Middle Web Blog by Valentina Gonzalez
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I love how this Sped Classroom is so print-rich and has a writing word wall! Used with permission from Melissa Finch of  Autism Adventures Blog and TpT Store!

Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!

Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities:  This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:Big Book of Word Walls

  • Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
  • Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
  • Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
  • Double Trouble:  Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
  • And not from the book…but check out this FREEBIE of word wall center activities from Mr. Giso’s Born to Read blog!
  • And here’s another FREEBIE from The Colorful Apple on TpT!

Favorite Intermediate/Secondary Word Wall Activities:

  • Word Sneak – this is a game based on Jimmy Fallon’s Word Sneak game on his show! I can’t wait to play this with one of my tutoring students!
  • So many GREAT ideas in THIS resource too…my faves are “Unfolding Five Words in a Story”, and also the drama and musical groups activities!
  • “Guess My Word”.  I found the “Guess My Word!” idea on Pinterest, but the website it links to has been discontinued, so I created my own version using Wheel Decide!

Check out my Pinterest board on a Literacy-Rich Environment for more information on types of word walls and activities!

So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!

“Word up everybody says
When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway
Word up it’s the code word
No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”

Songwriters: Larry Blackmon / Tomi Jenkins
Word Up! lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Literacy Resource Update: Ideas for Classroom Teachers and Tutors!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

JUST FOR YOU…TWO  FREEBIES COMING UP…a graphic organizer to use after reading Newsela articles (or other types of articles) and a Vocabulary/Spelling City Progress Log!

Here are my updates for my previous post on literacy resources!

Update on NewselaI “waxed poetic” on how much I love this website in that previous post, and now it’s gotten even better!  I’m not sure how long they have offered the units feature, but I just happened to discover them recently! (The link to the units only offers info on history units, but they have added much more! The units feature several articles (grouped in a Text Set) and teaching ideas to go with them.  I chose to use the unit on Technology with my 8th-grade tutoring student, but they also have units on U.S. History,  government, civil rights and ancient civilizations.  The units come complete with guiding questions, student activities, and even a culminating project!

j5hrxg9svcyslok5dqeaa.jpgIn addition to the units, each article on Newsela offers a writing prompt for practice in constructed writing responses, and some articles have Power Words, defined as: “Power Words are research-based, high frequency, high utility vocabulary words used across a range of texts.”  Students can click on the words to discover the definition.  Check out more information HERE.

fullsizeoutput_5ca4I also revised Newsela’s summer reading graphic organizer (left) for my students to use after reading Newsela articles, with areas to put their scores on the quiz, a summary, and a reflection. (That’s one of the FREEBIES FOR YOU…KEEP READING TO SEE HOW TO GET IT!) For the summary, I am using the $2 Summary technique I learned from a 6th-grade teacher/colleague. The basic premise of this type of summary is that you write what the article is about (or the main idea) with just enough detail that the reader clearly understands what it was about. Each word in the summary (excluding the title) will “cost” the student 10¢ and they need their finished summary to cost as close to $2.00 as possible! Check out my 4th-grade student’s summaries in the photos above.  I also think the reflection piece is important…the articles I have students read are about important or interesting topics, and I want them to reflect on the content they read.

Spelling/Vocabulary City – I can’t believe I did not include this website in my first literacy resources blog, but I think it’s because I wasn’t using it as often as I am now…I think I am now addicted to this website…not only is it FUN for the students and they learn so much about new vocabulary, but it’s so easy for teachers to manage and use. (Disclaimer: I went ahead and paid the $34.95 for the Premium Membership because while you can do a great deal with the free log-in, you can do so much more for your students with the premium!) Click HERE to learn more about the Premium features. Here’s how I use this website with my 1st – 5th students:

  • fullsizeoutput_5ca3Self-Chosen Vocabulary: As students are reading books and articles, I have them either use small colored tabs to highlight unfamiliar words, online highlighting or list on their reading logs. This will personalize vocabulary instruction and lets students learn the word using the context in which it was written.  I help students discern between words they are likely to encounter again in text or the world and words that they will not, such as words that are scientific, outdated or obscure.  I then add their words into a list for them on Spelling/Vocabulary City. I give them choices on what activities (my personal favorite is the game show, Word-o-Rama) they want to use, but I always have them start with the Flashcards so they can learn the words. The students and I keep track of their progress with the activities and tests, and to help with this I created a log (CLICK ON THE FREEBIE AT END OF POST!) for them to track their progress and scores; this helps them take ownership of learning and success.
  • Academic Vocabulary: For students who are two or more years behind in reading and vocabulary skills, I will assign them Academic Vocabulary lists on this website. It’s so important that students learn the words they will see over and over in academic settings!
  •  Spelling/Handwriting:  Many of the activities and games are printable! For one of my students, I printed out a list of the words he misspelled on his benchmark writing assessment. This is written on writing paper with lines, so he was able to practice not only the spelling but handwriting skills as well!

That’s it for my Literacy Resources update! Comment below if you use these resources or have other ideas! Below are the images you can click on to get either the Newsela Log or Vocabulary/Spelling City Log…or both! Both will shortly go on sale on TpT, but you can get yours NOW! See you next week!

Click HERE for the Newsela Log!

Click HERE for the Vocabulary City Log!